A Rose (wood) By An Other Name (ibanez Origins)
Todd Simpson
Mar 21 2020, 05:18 AM
Posts: 19.933
Joined: 23-December 09
From: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
As many of you know, I’m a bit of a fan of little company that makes guitars and pedals called “IBANEZ”. What many of you may not know, is that this company got it’s name from one of it’s original products and it was originally pronounced more like “EEBONYEZ”, not “EYEBANEZ”.

The company began way back in 1908. In the beginning, they were just a simple distributor of sheet music and guitar related accessories. The company name was “HOSHINO GAKKI” and technically, that’s still the company name. Even though, we just think of them as “IBANEZ”.

Around 1920, Hoshino Gakki started to import guitars in to Japan that were built by Spanish guitar Luthier Salvador Ibanez. His last name is pronounced “EEBONYEZ”. It’s a spanish name after all, so it has a very Spanish ring to it. The company began to sell these guitars in Japan and did quite well with them. They were sold to schools and instructors and created the income stream that the company would need to start building it’s own guitars.

In about 10 years time from when they began importing these Spanish guitars, they decided it would be cheaper to just buy the entire company instead of just importing and reselling them. So that’s what they did. They bought the entire Ibanez brand and started to have their own guitars built, including electric guitars, using the brand name Ibanez. This made sense as the name had good brand recognition in Japan. So extending in to electric guitars, which were starting to become popular, seemed like a natural fit. Keep in mind, this was way back when electric instruments were still a bit of a novelty. These instrument were NOT high end electric guitars. These were very cheap guitars that were made as cheaply as they could be made.

In an effort to further decrease costs and make production more efficient, Ibanez decided to contract with Japanese guitar builder FUJIGEN duding the 1970s, to start building Ibanez branded Instruments. This way, Hoshino Gakki could focus on branding and marketing and let FujiGen worry about the actual building of the guitars. This is the way that off the rack Ibanez guitars are still made to this very day. If it’s a guitar listed on the Ibanez web site, and it’s and MIJ (Made in Japan) it’s probably built by FujiGen. Of course, Ibanez guitars are now made in other countries as well. Just like their Japanese guitars, Ibanez pays various other companies/factories to “Ghost Build” these guitars and just brand them as Ibanez. This leaves Ibanez free to focus on building the brand.

Of course, Ibanez does build some of it’s own guitars. There are custom shops in Japan and LosAngeles that build prototypes for endorsed artists which are then sent along to the factory to be mass produced. So while we think of Ibanez as a guitar company, it’s really just the brand name for guitars built through Hoshino Gakki Corporation using various factories that “Ghost Build” the instruments for them, which are then stamped with the Ibanez Logo.

In truth, this is how most guitar companies work these days who are in the business of mass producing instruments. The same factories in Japan, Indonesia, Korea and China are responsible for most of the guitars you see when you walk in to a guitar center. Many of the instruments are built in the same place by the same people despite various instruments being quite different.

I hope I have not wrecked your view of Ibanez Guitars with this bit of history/biz. I still love them. Even though, it’s really just a brand, an abstraction. It’s the qualities of the brand, especially the ones built by FujiGen in Japan that have won my heart.

Which brand has won your heart and do you know if they are built by the company that names them or are they farmed out to be ghost built like Ibanez?

Here is a recent tour of the LACS custom Shop, shot during NAMM 2020.

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